Monday, December 31, 2012

In My Own Skin

The cold that worked its way through my family last week has finally caught me, so we're spending a very quiet New Year's Eve in. Truth be told, though, it is unlikely we would have done things much differently if I weren't sick. Mr. Snarky is giving the kids their bath roughly on time, but then I'll dig out our New Year's Eve hats and we'll let them stay up until 9 p.m. to ring in the New York New Year's. Once we settle them into sleep (my guess is sometime around 10, given how Petunia's bedtimes have gone lately), we'll sit with our beers and try to stay up to ring in the new year in our own time zone. And really, this is perfect. I've never been a "go out and party with a big crowd of strangers" sort of person.

We spent Christmas in Arizona, with my parents and extended family. It was a wonderful visit, but the drive home is... well, it is long. We split it into two, stopping in Yuma last night. (Irrelevant aside: I can whole-heartedly recommend the Clarion Hotel to anyone needing a stopover in Yuma. It is a few blocks away from the freeway, but worth the detour. We stopped on the way over and were so impressed with the value that we stopped again on the way back. We had a full suite- with a door between the bedroom and living room and two comfortable queen beds- for roughly $80, which is at least $30 less than the hotels near the freeway charge for one of those fake suites with only a half wall separating the bedroom and living room.)

We let the kids play at the excellent playground near the river for almost an hour before we finally set out for home. It is a long drive through scenery that I find beautiful in parts, but deadly dull in others. It is, at least, conducive for staring out the window and pondering life, the universe, and everything.

Since it is New Year's Eve, I predictably thought about resolutions. I could make the usual ones to lose weight/get in shape, be more patient, etc., etc. In fact, upon reading through my resolutions post from the beginning of 2012, I must admit that all of those still apply. Whatever 2012 was, it was apparently not a year for meeting personal growth and improvement goals!

But really, I think my goals can all be boiled down to one: I want to get comfortable in my own skin again. Or maybe for the first time- I'm not sure I have ever been really comfortable in my own skin. I have certainly had better time periods, though.

A few weeks ago, I walked to the deli across the street from work to buy some lunch, and I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the glass door as I headed back. I looked behind me, to see who the older woman was. But it was me. The me in my head is 25, with the easy attractiveness of youth and a life full of dreams and goals ahead of her. The me in that glass is 40, probably in need of a makeover, and certainly in need of more exercise and some time to shop for a better wardrobe. She has some reasonable accomplishments to her name, a hodge podge of goals competing for her attention, and enough well-earned wisdom to know that she needs to choose which ones to focus on if she hopes to achieve any of them. If only she knew which ones.

I am not unhappy with my life- in fact, I have much to be happy about, and it does indeed make me happy. But I am not content. The years have snuck up on me and changed me in ways I don't really understand, leaving me feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. Maybe 2013 will be the year that I change that, learn to embrace- or at least recognize!- the woman I've become, and figure out where she's going with the rest of her life. I hope you don't mind coming along for the ride, because if I do try to sort this out in 2013, I'll almost certainly blog about it.

Not sure where this road goes.

What about you? Any resolutions you want to share? Do you recognize the person you've become?

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your celebrations are as good a fit to you as ours are to us.


  1. Anonymous8:46 PM

    :) this post really resonates with me! I am often shocked when I see myself in photos or catch a side glimpse on store windows. Here is to a great New Year!

    Regular reader

  2. I'm often struck by the same thing--the difference between how old I feel, and what I look like in the mirror.

    Interestingly, I've had that experience in both directions. When I was in my early 20s, I lost quite a bit of weight (unhealthily, due to stress and not eating). I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror because I could not figure out what I looked like. One day I saw a woman and thought, "Wow, she's got great legs." Then I realized it wasn't someone about to walk out from behind the glass door--it was me, and those were my legs.

    Today I could definitely do with that workout regimen and makeover, but I also recognize that those aren't my priorities at the moment. I'm getting closer to them, though. Something along those lines may happen this year, because I know that the inner me and the outer me can be closer than they are at the moment--this time healthily.

  3. I love the way you've written this post. One of my main goals for 2013 is to get back to a body I recognize as mine. Having 2 kids in 3 years and all the nursing, etc, not to mention the march towards 40, has really made me feel like I'm inhabiting someone else's exterior. I'll be reading :)

  4. I like your approach to the idea of contentment. This past year, I've had several times where I felt utterly content. I don't know exactly what to attribute it to, though I can name a number of contributing factors. The first one sounds so woo woo dippy, but I found I was intolerant to a number of foods, and have stopped (for the most part) eating them. It made such an incredible difference in my day-to-day well-being and health.
    The next would be feeling more solid in the friendships I have here on the Planet Denmark. Naturally, they are other ex-pats, but friends they are.
    Another is my husband being more content, in his job and our ways of relating to each other.
    Lastly would be my lovely daughter, who is all the time easier and more interesting as she gets older (now 6 1/2+).
    My resolution is to consider a writing project a friend proposed to me. I will give it a good try, and see if it grows feet. I also am looking into starting a consultancy with another friend, and have lots of research to do on that front.
    Happy New Year to all of you!

    1. Those are some great resolutions, especially the last bit about the writing project and consultancy. Very cool.

  5. Anonymous6:22 AM

    We also all have *the cold*, except, apparently DC1 who had full blown sick a week or two ago. Having a baby with a cold is miserable. We all went to bed last night before 9pm.

    Haven't thought about New Year's Resolutions... I think I tend to make them in September, so I'm still working off from this September. And these are to get some more papers out and to finish required work on grants. One down... Next semester is going to be insane.

    I'm pretty comfortable in my own skin, but I do think I may need to start using a moisturizer. My hands are no longer those of a 20-something and my face is awfully dry. I should probably start wearing my glasses more frequently as well because I'm getting unattractive squint wrinkles and I'd rather have the attractive smile ones if I'm going for a permanent mark on my face. Part of me noticing, I know, is that pregnancy made me look younger, but now all those benefits have suddenly left, fortunately they took the pregnancy acne with them.

    1. Anonymous8:10 AM

      p.s. Although I will never become content , I don't tend to have the unhelpful kind of self-doubt and second-guessing unless I'm spending too much time reading self-help life-style management kinds of blogs .

      I wonder if #2 and I ever make people feel inadequate. (Not with our shining awesomeness, obviously. We're totes for people owning their own awesomeness.) I don't know if there's a difference between who you are and what you do, but we believe you can become who you want to be, and you can do that without disliking who you are now or who you were in the past. We're very pro- focusing on growth and being in a constant state of growth rather than focusing on some end-goal. But that kind of mindset doesn't lead to contentment, and there's nothing wrong with that. There's time for me to be content when I'm dead. (Also nothing wrong with trying to be content if that's what you really want, but it's ok to be one way or the other.)

    2. I don't tend to have the unhelpful kind of self-doubt and second-guessing

      Good for you! That's a trait I wish I had but I don't. My husband does; he always feels, by default, that he can do no wrong, and I think that makes him generally much happier than I am, even though I am more successful in objective terms (degrees, money, external recognition), or even in terms of how much of own potential was realized, than he is. His outlook is just very different from my outlook and his default state seems to be content; mine is dissatisfied, restless, anxious (I suppose it would be the grouchy version of the growth mindset). Not sure how much is built-in (or adopted early in life) and how much can be learned and whether one can will oneself to become more positive and zen.

    3. Anonymous10:32 AM

      "one can will oneself to become more positive and zen."

      One can.

      Seriously: try positive restructuring for the positive part and the rest of cognitive behavioral therapy for the zen part. CBT works really well for type-A folks who want to become calmer. Did it for test anxiety in grad school but it changed the rest of my life too.

    4. Thanks! I have actually read a few REBT and CBT books and have started seeing a therapist (but with my schedule, turns out only once 1-2 months). What makes it hard for me to look at things positively is that I always have this nagging feeling that I am fooling myself when trying to put a positive spin on things, that I am somehow trying to cheat myself out of the reality that is not very positive at all. So there is some deep programming in me that really resists the restructuring, even though I know how it should work, that it's a good thing, and even can make myself apply it sometimes (when I am not too irritated/agitated/god knows what).

      Cloud, my apologies for hijacking your thread with my neuroses!

    5. Hijack away! I might pick up some useful tips. And it is distracting me from my terrible cold.

    6. Anonymous2:46 PM

      The trick with restructuring is that it has to be things that are actually *true*. Going all Stuart Smalley has been shown to not work.

  6. The me in my head is 25, with the easy attractiveness of youth and a life full of dreams and goals ahead of her. The me in that glass is 40,

    Ahh. I feel like this often. Somehow, I am always unpleasantly surprised by how I look. In my head I am still young, and in reality I am definitely more on the matronly side and I don't like it.

    With me, I feel I haven't really taken advantage of my youth. Part is that my teenage and early 20's I was in my home country, with a terrible economic crisis, and I could do very little in terms of enjoying life. And I was in a relationship with one guy for 7 years, whereas I really wish I had dated around. Shortly after coming to the US, I met my husband and got pregnant pretty much right away (had baby at 26). So I never had the time to be a young single adult and also have some opportunities to travel or go out like people do here; I went from broke and miserable in home country to pregnant then mom and a grad student in the US. I have been a mom for 13 years now, always with one small kid or another. My kids are wonderful, beautiful, and smart, but I am so starved for me time that I don't think I can ever make it up -- e.g. over this winter break, with 10 days cooped up inside and counting, I am really crawling out of my skin. And just finding the time to take a fuckin' shower is hard, with everyne needing to be fed, changed, entertained.

    Anyway, I became a caretaker of kids before I was ready, and have been for a long time with no break and will be for a long time still. I think what has made me feel and look old and tired is the mountain of responsibilites -- to my kids, my husband, my students. The lack of time to do everything results in lack of sleep and exercise and wrong food choices, which then makes me feel and look bad physically.

    Like you, I would like to become more comfortable with who I am, but also change the bits I am uncomfortable with. One part is my looks, but it's very hard, because my will is depleted and the time is just not there. I hate it when people say "you have to find the time for you." Well, that means I have to drop something, which means either work or kids. So it's work, which then makes me fall behind on my career goals, and that really pisses me off and is the second thing I would like to fix or get comfortable with -- the fact that people have passed me up and I am not where I would want to be career-wise. I wish it weren't so, but people who have a leg up in this career are single or married/childless. I used to pretend that they don't and that if I just worked hard enough I could offset the fact that I can't travel to give talks and that I can't work as many hours or work weekends; but it's time to face the music and the fact that missing these aspects of work does add up to a visible disadvantage.

    Anyway, like you, I have a lot to be grateful for and happy about. But I am far from content and quite unsure what I can do to become more so.

    Happy New Year and good luck with your resolutions!

  7. It is interesting that it is the physical aspect of this post that seems to resonate with most people- or maybe I just didn't make it clear enough that it is both physical and mental (emotional? Not sure what the right word is) aspects of myself that I've lost touch with.

    Regardless, someone could make a fortune by developing a simple system to morph your 25 year old style into a good style for you at 40, eh?

    @nicoleandmaggie- it isn't so much that I'm comparing myself to others and feeling inadequate. So shine on with your awesomeness! In fact, I don't really feel inadequate- just that I don't really feel at home with the "grown up" me. I don't know how I should dress, and I don't really know what I want to work towards. I have too many interests and possible goals to do all at once (classic "scanner" problem!) and haven't figured out what matters most to me. When I was 25, I knew what mattered most to me, and I worked toward it.

    So I guess I agree that I can keep growing, but not in all directions at once! I have to prioritize, and despite a lot of thinking about what to do in 2012, I utterly failed to settle on a plan. I have at least three possible plans bouncing around in my head right now!

    On the moisturizer thing- yeah, I had to accept that I needed to add that to my nightly routine a while ago. I use Oil of Olay night cream because it seems to work, can be bought at the grocery store, and doesn't cost a fortune. The downside is that I smell like my maternal grandmother... which isn't much of a downside, because it is nice to remember her (she died when I was in college).

    @GMP- I hear you on the absolute uselessness of the "make time for you" advice. It is one of those things that is right and yet so useless as to make you want to scream. If it were obvious how to make time for myself (e.g., exercise) without causing lots of problems in other aspects of my life (e.g., parenting and work) then I would have already done it!

  8. Anonymous10:29 AM

    I was thinking of starting with Moisturel as almost everything else gives me a rash. (And whipped petroleum jelly just feels icky.) IIRC Oil of Olay was one of the three things the dermatologist back in high school said I could use, but I'm not crazy about the smell (one grandma smelled like lilies of the valley and often cookies and the other like 4711). But maybe I'll try it.

    You sound so much like my DH. Being a scanner with options (as opposed to one who has to make money to support the wife and kids) has its own challenges. Especially if there isn't enough money to be a full-blown dilettante. Next year will be exciting for us as DH explores what he wants to do next. I seem to have a much easier time with my ever-expanding bucket list of related professional goals. I scan, but within the confines of my field. I could write a lot more of the same papers, but instead I make a little splash and move onto something different. This method means fewer papers and many more referee reports (because I'm an expert on too many things), but I don't get bored. (And I'm thinking in 3 years or so I'd like to co-edit a journal, so being a good referee will help with that thankless goal.)

    1. Everything gives me rashes and blemishes, too, so the one I use is Neutrogena's Oil-free Moisture (sensitive skin)
      I use it twice a day, it gives me this wonderful refreshed feeling, and it doesn't hurt that you can find it at Walgreen's .

    2. Anonymous3:17 PM

      That looks promising!

    3. Anonymous11:25 AM

      I don't have sensitive skin so YMMV but I found switching to a mild cleanser (like Cetaphil) combined with an AHA was a life-saver. Before, I had weird dry skin next to breakouts but the exfoliant fixed that up. After that, just about any moisturizer works on top. I've been using the Olay Regenerist one this winter and it's working well.

      I just started using retinol. I had avoided it because you have to watch out for sun exposure when using it and in Colorado, that's hard to avoid. Since it's winter, I went for it though and wow! Instant improvement and it cleared up my melasma very fast.

    4. Three words: sunscreen, exfoliate, rentiols.

      Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. Everyday. Top of hairline to nipple. Whatever you do to your face, also do it to your neck and decolletage.

      Exfoliate. (Amen @Anonymous.) Can be as simple as bringing a washcloth with you into the shower and using it on your face, or as fancy as one of those $200 Clarisonic brushes (Olay makes a $40 version just as good IMHO).

      Retinols are like miracle creams for minimizing fine lines and getting rid of acne. I've had an rx for generic Differin (adapalene) for years - my skin responds well to it. My mom is in her 60s and has had good anti-aging results with Renova.

  9. I wish you nothing but luck in this endeavor. This past year was the year that I really started becoming comfortable in my own skin (yay therapy! Losing 10 pounds helped too.), but I can see that it's going to be something I have to actively work at my entire life. For me, it's entirely too easy to let everyone and everything else trump ME, so I have to make the effort to focus on me.

    It's an odd sensation, I think, to be happy, but not comfortable. If you can make yourself both, all the better.

    1. I've given serious thought to seeing a therapist or counselor, too. I saw one once before, in my first year of college, and she really helped me adjust to that change. So maybe I could use some help adjusting to my more recent changes. I am still on the fence about this, though. It is harder to make the time commitment now than it was in college!

    2. Anonymous7:05 PM

      Maybe a life coach? I bet San Diego is crawling with them.

    3. It probably is! I did see a career coach once, too. She was very helpful, and I still look back on some of the things I learned during those sessions and use them to guide career decisions. Maybe I should just go back to her! But I'm not sure that's the right approach for my current conundrum.

    4. I'm of the "if you think you need to be in therapy, then you probably need to be in therapy" school of thought. But, of course, there's still a huge cultural taboo against it in this country, so I can't fault anyone for feeling like it's all a bit shamey and scary and possibly self-indulgent (just like anything else a woman does to prioritize her own needs, right?). Making the time, plus finding a good one is the challenge. There are some who will meet with you via Skype - saving you the drive time.

  10. Hello, I read you but don't comment :)

    However, the weight thing..... I really have to lose at least 6, preferably 8 kg very quickly. I was okay until Aug, was sick with flu for about 5 - 6 weeks, and put on 2 - 3 kgs in that time, and it hasn't stopped. But this has GOT to stop. I've even thought of not getting our family photo shoot done because of how horrible I look. I'm also short and my weight gathers on my bum and thighs, and now, post kids, tummy too, so all round horrible!

    1. Good luck with the weight loss- I do best when I go very slowly. I had dropped several pounds by October last year, but Halloween, a string of illnesses, and now Christmas has put me right back where I was. I'm going to keep trying, though. I may also just need to accept that my style needs to change to better suit my post-kids body.

  11. scantee4:46 PM

    I'm in a different place in that I feel like I look better now than I have at any other point in my life. At 35 I definitely look older than I once did, but my features are pretty angular and I guess I finally grew into them. I don't know how long this will last but I'm enjoying it for the time being.

  12. Great goal for the year. I think we could all be more comfortable with ourselves. I also find that I've changed a lot over the past few years - physically and mentally (especially with what is important in my life). I'll be reading with interest!

  13. paola4:31 AM

    Similar to @scantee, I feel I have a much better figure than I did 10 years ago, despite my age ( 46 in April). I was always on the heavy side but 4 years of breastfeeding helped me lose weight, not to mention of course the running, which helps both the inside and out. I don't look my age, thankfully, but I can't kid myself that my skin is that of a 25 year old. I guess I am satisfied to look 'good' for a nearly 46 year old.

    Doctor's visits always put me in my place though. I may get complimented for looking young for my age, but then told my ailments ( long-sightedness, breast bumps etc) are due to my (advancing) age.

  14. @scantee, @paola- it is good to hear there is hope for feeling good as I age! I, too, lost weight breastfeeding. Sadly, I didn't pay enough attention when I weaned Petunia, and ended up 10-15 lbs over what I should be. I'm having a hard time fixing that. But I keep trying!

  15. I'm going to start by plugging the moisturizer I use:
    I've tried the first 4 on that page, the scents are all extremely mild and the ingredients are mostly things you would find in your kitchen - been using this stuff for 3 years now and am still totally in love with it (also, a good source of makeup for when the small girls start wanting to wear it and you don't want to expose them to a pile of nasty chemicals).

    I love this line in particular Cloud, "the easy attractiveness of youth". I think we need to follow it up with "the more studied attractiveness of age". I've been pretty seriously grumpy with myself lately, both body and mind - I've spent about 3 of the last 6 months sick (nothing serious, but I was pretty much incapacitated for at least a month of that) and it is amazing just how little progress I can make when I'm not spending enough time working on stuff. I was starting to see the thesis at the end of the tunnel, but I lost so much momentum on that...hopefully things start moving forward again soon. I really figured I'd be almost done by now. It is just killing my self-image to still be a grad student at almost 37, especially since I've totally lost sight of what's at the end of this particular road - I really wanted to be a scientist when I got into this, and now I catch myself thinking fondly about working in software and kicking myself for turning down that job at RIM 15 years ago. This is partly because of spending Christmas around folks I only see once or twice a year, and I catch a glimpse of myself through what I imagine is their eyes, and it doesn't look particularly successful, because I'm only looking at the negative things.

    I totally get what you mean about not feeling content. I'm not the person I had planned on being at this point. When I see people who have aspects of what I'd dreamed of, I feel so jealous...and yet I can see that in most ways I really like my life a lot better than I like theirs...but it is so easy to lose sight of that.

    My resolution for this year is to finish the PhD so I can start something else. Also...lose 10-15 lbs :)

    1. Anonymous7:42 AM

      Hang in there! It sounds like you're getting the near-the-end thesis doldrums. Just force yourself to work on it. (It will be followed by hating your thesis with a passion and working on something completely different... then, after it's been published, realizing there was a reason you liked your thesis to begin with.) Just power through.

      Here's some good reading:

      And more links on how we try to power through:

    2. Thank you! That is awesome stuff. Now I have a lot to think about...

    3. I'm totally getting into the moisturizer thing. I bought a semi-expensive face cream and am using it on my hands too. It feels decadent and scandalous every time I slather it on, which makes me feel younger even if the moisturizer itself doesn't do a darn thing.

    4. Yes, power through and finish the thesis!

      And remember- YOU get to define what success means in your life. Also, sometimes the people you look at and envy are looking at you with envy, too. I had that happen once, and it was an interesting experience. No one actually has everything, we all make choices and let go of somethings, and it is easy to over-emphasize what you gave up and fail to recognize the benefits of what you have.

  16. yup the me in my head is also still in her 20s. who the hell is this 40 something woman I keep seeing?

  17. Happy New Year, Cloud! Oddly enough, after reading your post last night, I keep thinking about the origin and meaning of the word "content." "A peaceful happiness," derived from the Latin "continiere" meaning "to hold in, to contain." Alternate meanings of the word "content" are "substance, meaning." The transitive verb "content" means "to appease the desires of" and "to limit (oneself) in requirements, desires, or actions."

    Like you, I'm a little bit surprised by all the comments you've received here inspired by your words about physical appearance. My go-to wisdom when I'm in a negative head space on this topic is a Dear Sugar (aka Cheryl Strayed) column asking "“what’s on the other side of the tiny gigantic revolution in which I move from loathing to loving my own skin?” -


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